Leah Price describes how her family traveled from Bethlehem, Georgia all the way to the jungle. Her mother, Orleanna, insisted that they bring Betty Crocker cake mix with them, since there would be none in Africa. Leah’s father, Nathan Price, believed that bringing Betty Crocker was a waste of time since cake was a symbol of materialism and greed. But Orleanna isn’t deterred—she packs other goods, such as ham, a mirror, and Band-Aids. Orleanna also brings antibiotics, a frying pan, and yeast. Nathan criticizes these supplies, citing the Bible verse about the “lilies of the field.” Rachel, one of Leah’s sisters, mutters that the “lilies” don’t need Nathan’s Bible.
There’s a very uneven power dynamic in the Price household. Leah is clearly an intelligent, quick-thinking young woman, but she’s basically powerless. The only truly powerful figure in her family is Nathan, the male “head of the household.” Nathan’s emphasis on the semantics of the Bible seems misplaced here: right or wrong, Nathan is neglecting the concrete things that his family will need to survive in a foreign country.
On the flight to Africa, the Price family’s baggage is exhausting to carry. Rachel complains about the hassle of having to carry so many bags, but she also smuggles some supplies of her own, including nail polish, which Leah considers “Rachel to a T.” On the plane, Rachel jokes with Adah, her sister. When the family disembarks in Leopoldville, Leah’s younger sister, Ruth May, faints. She revives very quickly, but the incident disturbs Orleanna.
Leah seems thoughtful and introspective, while Rachel is more superficial and self-absorbed (at least from Leah’s perspective). There’s also some foreshadowing going on here, as Ruth May doesn’t take to the Congo from the very beginning, and Orleanna senses that something is wrong with her youngest child.
In Leopoldville, a family of missionaries, the Underdowns, debriefs the Price family on their “mission” in the Congo. Nathan Price has come to Africa to practice his religion in Kilanga. Kilanga used to be a thriving village, with good healthcare and a regular outpost of missionaries. Currently, though, Kilanga is “in a slump.” Leah is intimidated by the prospects of Kilanga.
Nathan has a specific “mission,” or at least he believes he does. He’s been sent to provide the Congolese with Christian teachings, but from a more practical perspective it seems that they need healthcare, food, and clean water much more dearly.
As Nathan speaks with Mr. Underdown, Mrs. Underdown playfully makes fun of Leah and her siblings for their thick Southern accents. Leah feels sensitive and self-conscious about her foreignness in her new home. It occurs to her that she and her sisters have each brought “some extra responsibility” to the Congo with them. Nathan has only one responsibility—bringing the Word of God—and it weighs nothing.
The title of this section—“things we carried”—doesn’t just refer to the literal items that the family carries to Africa, but also to the emotional baggage that they bring with them. Strangely, Nathan seems to be the only one without this emotional baggage, as he seems entirely oblivious to how negatively his decisions have affected the rest of his family.